August 25, 2011

Book Review: Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Title: Okay for Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
Copy Obtained Through: NetGalley


Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam.
My Review

I have to start by saying that I LOVED The Wednesday Wars.  I loved it so much I read it aloud to my 7th graders.  They loved it!  And when I heard that this book focused on one of the characters from that book, I knew I had to read it.  Soooooo very glad I did.

Doug Swieteck is a minor character in The Wednesday Wars who is seen has kind of a bully and a trouble maker - well ok is brother is more.  You hear about "Doug Swieteck's brother" over and over.  You never know, though what Doug's story is.  Okay for Now tells you his story, and now that I know it I will read The Wednesday Wars with new eyes.  

Doug's home life is not good.  Anything good he has is taken away.  He says several times in this book that when things are going good - that's always when things go the most wrong.  And for Doug that is a pretty accurate description of his life.  That slowly begins to change when he moves to a small town.  It was completely amazing to watch Doug face difficult sitiuations over and over, but still get up and slug on.  And what was more amazing what his ability to see the beauty surrounding him when it would've been so easy for him to ignore it.  I saw this first when he described his mother's smile - how beautiful it was.  When I read that part I knew Doug would be ok if he just kept going.

The way Doug's emotions were described for this seemed so real.  The author really put you inside his mind and heart.  He allowed Doug to be honest within his thoughts you so get the real Doug.  His fears, dreams, wants, what gives him joy, what makes him worry. You knew it all, and some of it was hard to hear! I have to confess that through large portions of the book I had tears in my eyes because of how honest it was. It was hard to read what Doug thoughts others thought of him - especially the teachers in his new school. He thought they didn't trust him, that he wasn't smart, that he'd wreck their things.  As as teacher it felt awful to realize that kids in my school probably feel that way.  But it was that raw honesty the reader got that made the hope that also came through that much more strong and believable.  

The begining of Doug beginning to believe his life could be good start with a book of painting by John Audubon and it led to a friendship with a man that refused to see anything Doug except good and talent.  This friendship then leads to more and more people believing in the good in Doug.  And that leads to amazing things for Doug.  It was so uplifting, and in the end my heart felt full (ok ok that was a little cheesy! - but true!)

I will admit a few things that happened seemed far fetched and I the father's story seemed a little unbelievable, but I was able to overlook them because of Doug.  Doug was okay - and would continue to be ok, so I could let that go.

Ok the "cover it all" paragraph:  There is so much that happens in this book from the relationship Doug has with the phy-ed teacher, to his brother coming home from the war, and Lily the girl Doug likes that I can't cover it all.  But every one of those situations and people bring Doug closer to believing it can always stay good and if it doesn't - he'll be okay.  Every situation gives Doug a voice whether spoken or internal that builds him as a character.  They all show what happens when we believe in and support each other.  They were all amazing.

And lastly why I think it rocks for MG:  Kids at this age all face the issues Doug faces to some degree or another.  They don't know if people like them.  They think teachers don't trust them.  They worry about their families.  They hide part of who they are (like Doug hid his art) for fear of being laughed at.  They feel picked on.  This book can help them see that there will be people who will believe in them and that they can, and should, believe in themselves.  It may be difficult, and it may feel like every thing will always go wrong, but at some point it will be okay.  And if they don't really face this - it can help give them empathy for those that don't.  

For the Guys?  YES!!!!!! Although this is more a thinking book I think many boys would relate to Doug even if they don't have a life like him.  I fully expect to get many boys reading it after I read aloud The Wednesday Wars again.

Final thought:  Discouragement meets faith and that leads to knowing you'll be ok.
Best stick-with-you image:  Doug's brother and the coach 
Best for readers who:  Can handing a "thinking" book
Best for ages: 12+

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